“For this is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another,”
(CSB – Read the chapter)
Today, I want to do something a little different. I am not going to analyze or invest very much time in unpacking this verse. I’m not going to review anything. Hopefully I’ll get to see the new Black Panther soon and will review that. Instead, I want to tell you about something I saw this past week that struck me as profound and worth sharing. I was treated to an example of love in action in a way I didn’t expect and haven’t seen very often. This is something a lot of people don’t even think really exists nowadays. I want to tell you that it does and that I saw it.
This past week I had the opportunity to attend the annual meeting of the Baptist State Convention my church is a part of. It takes place each November. The meeting itself was fine, but this particular experience came during a lunch meeting I attended before the conference began.
When I went to the annual meeting for the first time six years ago I didn’t know anyone. This was tough because in my previous church I had been attending the annual meetings of that state convention long enough that I knew many people, was serving on one of the leadership boards, and they were a good time to go each year and catch up with friends from around the state. It was a little depressing for me as an introvert to have to start that process over completely. But I went because it’s part of the job.
As I was walking around the convention center that first time, I noticed a bunch of pastors suddenly appear from some smaller meeting I didn’t know about. What caught my attention was that all of them were carrying stacks of books they had obviously received at the meeting. As a committed bibliophile, I knew this was a meeting I needed to figure out how to attend the next year.
The meeting turned out to be a group called the Young Pastor’s Network. It was an annual gathering of young pastors from around the state for fellowship and learning together from some guys who had been doing it longer than they had. Other than the year of Covid, I haven’t missed a meeting since. Also, it’s now simply called the Pastor’s Network because the original group who didn’t want to stop meeting together aren’t all that young anymore. It was here that I had this profound experience.
This year’s meeting featured a panel discussion about the church’s mission and planting new churches. The featured participants were JD Greear, Juan Sanchez, and Mark Dever. I had not heard of Juan before, but JD and Mark are SBC heavyweights. In fact, they’re evangelical heavyweights.
JD was the President of the SBC for the year before and during Covid. He is also pastor of The Summit Church whose main campus is in Raleigh, but which has campuses all over the place, 12 in all. Their posted weekly attendance is over 11,000 across all of their campuses.
Mark is the President of the 9Marks organization. This came out of a book he wrote about twenty years ago called The 9 Marks of Healthy Churches. While I believe there are technically 12 marks now, it is focused on helping churches become healthy so they can advance the Gospel more effectively. He is also the pastor of Capital Hill Baptist Church located on Capital Hill in Washington DC. The church only has one location, but Mark grew the church from a struggling 100 people to nearly 1000 today, and they actually have to regularly turn visitors away (although not without clear directions to other good churches nearby) because they don’t have room for them. Given their strategic location in the Capital, they aren’t going to move, but given their location in the Capital, they are also landlocked. Still, even though they are less than 1/10th the size of The Summit Church, their national prominence is about the same thanks to Mark’s leading and a highly sought after pastoral internship program he operates.
That key difference in size thanks to Capital Hill‘s having one location and The Summit’s having 12 is the thing that sparked this moment. The reason for this difference between these two churches stems from a significant disagreement in the ecclesiology of these two pastors. JD believes that a single church can exist in multiple different locations. Thus his church has twelve campuses and will probably grow from there. There is good Scriptural evidence to support his position. Mark, on the other hand, is firmly convinced that two groups of people meeting for worship in two different locations are two different churches. He energetically supports the planting of new churches just like JD does, but each church his church plants is an independent church and not merely another campus of his church. There is good Scriptural evidence to support this position as well.
Neither of these men are given to holding weak opinions, especially when it comes to matters related to the church. They are both fully convinced their view on ecclesiology is correct and that the other guy is wrong. Furthermore, both are mature enough in their theological views that neither is looking to have his mind changed. They’ve put in the work to clarify their views. Absent a direct revelation from God, they’re set.
Given this kind of theological disparity between the two of them, and given the state of our culture both outside sans inside the church, it would be easy to imagine two men like this regularly taking potshots at each other on social media. It would be easy to imagine their respective followers constantly antagonizing each other and “correcting” each other when given the chance. No one would be surprised if they held a fair bit…perhaps even a great deal…of animosity for one another because of their confidence that the other is wrong. Not only is the other wrong, but he is incorrigible in his wrongness. Instead of being teachable, he leans into it. This whole thing could blow up into a national conversion (i.e. debate) at least in the evangelical world.
These two men sat next to each other and shared a microphone. They laughed with each other. They laughed at each other. They shared a genuine affection for one another. JD spoke glowingly and fondly of his friendship with Mark and the impact of Mark’s friendship and mentorship on his own ministry. He talked about how if he runs into a big ministry question he can’t answer, Mark is one of the first calls he’ll make, and Mark takes those calls and patiently helps him work through it. In other words, in spite of a significant difference on a significant matter, these two men loved each other.
What a rare thing this is today! Think about the state of our politics. We don’t just fight, we fight ugly. About everything. Even the smallest point of disagreement becomes fodder for severing relationships and drawing up battle lines. We almost seem to delight in hating each other. And this leaks into the church as well. The Southern Baptist Convention is currently being torn asunder from the inside because one group decided they didn’t like the direction the larger group was going and gathered followers and has spent the last three years actively trying to take control of the internal levers of power. The dispute isn’t over anything that could affect someone’s salvation, but over matters of culture and politics. And it’s threatening to split the convention.
But these two men with a difference in views on something far more significant than culture and politics love each other. They respect each other. They support each other. They stand next to each other for the advancement of the kingdom. This is how it should be. This is how the church is supposed to work. You don’t see this kind of thing often today, but this was a good example of it. It impressed me enough that I’m writing about it now. I hope it impresses you too. It was pretty impressive.